What do I think of Dave Sim? I think he’s one of the world’s greatest living cartoonists. You can use that as a pull quote, like this.
“One of the world’s greatest living cartoonists.”
Go ahead. It’s true. Through 30 years of Cerebus he proved himself a craftsman, writer and artist with a vision unsurpassed. His comedic timing, inventive storytelling, expressive lettering, humane, nuanced characters, and epic world-creation…all unsurpassed.
Like many great artists, Dave Sim is also a complex, nuanced human being. But alas, he’s also something of a philosopher, and as most agree, as Cerebus went on, it became increasingly engrossed with these philosophical concerns, to the detriment of storytelling dynamics.
And the bottom line is that, just as the anti-Semitism of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Richard Wagner will always be an asterisk to their great artistry, so will Dave Sim’s narrow-minded philosophical concerns always provide the asterisk to a great career.
That’s the short version. If you want more…plunge on, brave, brave Concorde.
Why even bring thing up? Well, Sim’s 100 Hours on the internet are wrapping up today with a Jason Bourne-like sprint across various message boards, so it looks like a good time to look back at what we’ve learned. Back in the olden days Dave and I were friends, or at least friendly, we spoke on the phone many times, hung out in person. I think about 12 or 13 years ago I became one of “the Usual Suspects,” coinciding with my involvement with Friends of Lulu. We had a rather pointed exchange at a WonderCon around the time of #186, and since then onceexchanged some awkward pleasantries at a baseball game, but that’s about it. I guess what follows is at least my attempt to air my own thoughts as much as anything.
One thing I don’t want to do is just throw up my hands and say “He’s just a nutter!” That may or may not be true — certainly a persecution complex and mother issues have come up on his tour. Whatever Dave’s mental state, its his actual achievements that make him worthy of some study. Plus, the reactions to his philosophical views are worth noting in and of themselves; in my opinion they’re even more interesting than Dave’s views, which, as recently stated, aren’t really anything all that new and radical. Everyone knows his philosophy is more of a crackpot personal worldview. Everyone (myself included) feels bad about it because we’d like to just enjoy the work. And it is quite possible.
But I do find myself annoyed at times by the double standard. Actions have consequences. If Dave Sim had said the things he’s said about women and gays about blacks or Jews, it’s doubtful he’s be considered quite the wise elder of comics he’s often accepted as. And to me, that’s worth examining.
Sim’s message board postings have been sprinkled with weariness at having to answer the same old questions, but he’s gotten off pretty lightly all things considered, and a pretty good case could be made that airing everything is the only way to begin to accept Glamourpuss on its own merits. But it’s not really clear what it is he wants to say or discuss at times. Just this morning on Panel and Pixel he wrote:
I’d take issue with the idea that my “controversial views” have been “widely discussed”. I think my “controversial views” have been widely ALLUDED to — labelled inaccurately as misogyny and homophobia — with all the attendant name-calling and character assassination that typically goes with it, but I think I’m safe in saying, also, it’s an enormous stretch to call that “discussed” let alone “widely discussed”.
That having been said, I definitely appreciate Neil being willing to go on record as recommending JUDENHASS. It would be nice to think that it would be a “plus” for the book and not a “minus” for Neil.
I’d hate to think that he stuck his neck out just so we could both get our heads chopped off by the usual suspects.
Compare that with this from the Tart board:
I answered yes the first time. I answered yes the second through the twentieth time. If you ask me a year from now, the answer will still be “Yes, I am a member of the anti-feminist party.” Don’t you think it’s time to either charge me with something and have me arrested or just accept the fact that not everyone in the world thinks like you? Just wondering.
It that’s Dave’s idea of a discussion, then just what does he want?
Is Dave getting a free pass or has be been damned for all times by the Feminist/Atheist cabal? I have to admit, sometimes I’m surprised when I see people asking Sim to write intros to their books, or he’s invited to things like the opening of a comics exhibit at the Norman Rockwell museum. Or when some indie comics show trumpets his appearance. Or when I see Neil Gaiman or Jeff Smith “teaming up” with Dave for a worthy charity. It’s not that I expect him to get a proper Amish Shunning. It’s just that there’s a lot more blowback in the “real world” when you associate yourself with individuals with “strong opinions”.
Amusingly, as I was writing this post, I was listening to the Hillary/Obama debate, and Tim Russert made quite a squawk over Obama’s church’s relationship to Louis Farrakhan. (Obama’s church has given an award to Farrakhan, the head of the nation of Islam.) Obama made it clear that he would both “denounce and reject” Farrakhan’s hate speech.
What kind of hate speech? Oh, stuff like this.
“Do you know some of these satanic Jews have taken over BET?… Everything that we built, they have. The mind of Satan now is running the record industry, movie industry and television. And they make us look like we’re the murders; we look like we’re the gangsters, but we’re punk stuff.”
“Justifiable Homicide: Black Youth in Peril (Part 3)” speech at Mosque Maryam, 11/11/07
“These false Jews promote the filth of Hollywood that is seeding the American people and the people of the world and bringing you down in moral strength…It’s the wicked Jews the false Jews that are promoting Lesbianism, homosexuality. It’s wicked Jews, false Jews that make it a crime for you to preach the word of God, then they call you homophobic!”
Saviours’ Day, Chicago, Illinois, 2/26/06
In all honesty, I don’t see much difference between that hateful speech and this:
* “In one of those Poor Us studies for which the Emotional Female Void is notorious, it was pointed out that after a divorce, the average male standard of living rises… the average female standard of living drops… I think the…explanation is that the excision of a five-to-six- foot leech from the surface of a human body is going to have more of its own blood in its own veins. Unless the leech finds another body, it is going to go hungry.”
* “What the feminists and their ventriloquist puppet husbands are talking about doing with Government-Funded Daycare is raising children as if they were a herd of interchangeable swine. No surprise coming from a gender which has no ethics, no scruples, no sense of right and wrong.”
All quotes from the Dave Sim Misogyny page. You can find much more of this kind of stuff on Cerebus Fangirl’s page. To be honest, I kind of skimmed around in there. I wanted to devote some time to this but not TOO much.
To be fair, some of Dave’s most hateful comments have been in his “Viktor Davis” persona. And he doesn’t come right out and say whether this is his own personal philosophy. But there’s plenty of grist for anyone’s mill in the above links.
One of the interesting quotes from Sim regarding all this is that he seems to think (or once thought) that there was a real chance that all this would have a harsh blowback:
Cerebus is a very weird little commodity in the context of the Female Emotional Void Age. It’s too small to pay attention to and too big to ignore. It wouldn’t be that big a stretch to categorize Reads as Hate Literature against women. All it would take is for one woman to be disturbed enough by Reads to file a lawsuit, or a women’s group to file a class-action suit, in this Fascistic Feminist country and that would be the ball game, wouldn’t it?
Does that worry you?
Not especially. They could ban the book, seize the house and all the inventory, all the artwork, and burn it. Copies of it would still be out there. As long as I can have a pad of paper and a ball-point pen in my prison cell, I’ll be happier than a pig in shit. Clean and sober, three square meals a day, an exercise room to work out in. No monthly deadline. Sounds like a lot less pressure to me.
Yes, but then came Glamourpuss.
Sim, quite admirably, is devoted to promoting this book as part of his “shared risk, shared responsibility, shared reward” program. So now there is a problem with being the bold prophet of the truth about women. And that’s where things get more amusing. When Sim started his “100 hours” internet promotion, appearing on a dozen message boards to answer questions about Glamourpuss and Alex Raymond, it was inevitable that questions about his philosophizing would come up. But he said he would talk about gender issues only on the Sequential Tart board. There’s something inherently patronizing about quarrentining gender issues to the “women’s board” (and in fact the talk did leak out over a few places) but it was the second thread there were things got a little hot under the questioning of WolfenMoonDaughter, Reverend Smooth and Gail Simone. The quote I found the most interesting was this:
As I’ve tried to explain at considerable length, my interest in gender politics has been just about zilch for some time. If people want to read what I have to say about gender politics in COLLECTED LETTERS volumes one and two, or at cerebusfangirl’s website in my essays that she has collected there or in the CEREBUS letter columns, they’re welcome to do so. This is pretty close to three full days that I’ve spent on a subject in which I have no interest which I think, under the circumstances, is pretty open-minded of me.
It’s surprising that the guy who insisted that “Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast That Make You a Good Feminist” be posted at the TOP of every blog post on his blog for nearly a year (until just a few months ago, in fact) suddenly had no interest in discussing this when he had a book to promote, but, perhaps that is part of “shared responsibility.”
I would argue that when a man who has very particular and peculiar views about women suddenly puts out a comic book that is a parody of women’s fashion magazines, trying to draw a line between the two is a very legitimate path of enquiry.
Margaret a.k.a. Cerebus Fangirl has helpfully archived all of Dave’s responses on this page so you can dig in to your heart’s content should you so desire. I don’t know how much anyone will desire, because in between all the very interesting (to me) observations on putting together comics and selling them to retailers, and the life of the self publisher, you’ll find zingers like this.
It’s one of the reasons that I never “lashed back” at Jill Thompson, Colleen Doran and all the others who were so Offended by “Tangent”. There was nothing — and is nothing — that I could do to them that would be a patch on what they had chosen to do to themselves.
Very decent of him not to lash back at people he’s offended.
The joker in all this is Sim’s ability to be polite and open minded. He ‘s very grateful for the help retailers Mimi Cruz and Nancy McCann have given him. Or this.
2007 HOWARD E. DAY MEMORIAL PRIZE:
It’s MR. BIG by Matt and Carol Dembicki of Little Foot Comics in Fairfax, Virginia.
Those interested in checking out MR BIG can do so at
I don’t know if they have Paypal over there, but the book is $10 plus $2 postage.
Sincere congratulations: Matt and Carol are coming up to Columbus for S.P.A.C.E. along with their two sons, one of whom is (two?) and the other is two months old. They’re both looking forward to leaving the boys with Carol’s parents (who live in Columbus) and…hopefully …joining me and the Yahoos for the big spaghetti dinner Friday night that we keep hearing about and which is being prepared in anyone’s room but mine.
Given Sim’s thoughts elsewhere about working mothers, this is hard to parse, but it seems sincere.
And then, after all this “biology is destiny” stuff, along comes Judenhass, the preview of which, anyway, looks like a heartbreakingly beautiful historical account of the Holocaust. Given Sim’s views on the natural role of women (the upsetting of which is leading to a bleak, dehumanized world in which more women than men enter college) the irony in a panel like this is gut-wrenching. (Click for a larger version)
Yes, it is terrible to be convicted of the crime of being born Jewish. As opposed to::
No one wants to be a woman.
If, prior to our life on this earth, we were presented with the option of being male or female, a short description of the functions of the male versus the female genitalia (with emphasis on menstruation, menstrual cramps, PMS, labour pains, yeast infections, et al) would most certainly result in so vast a number of us choosing the male “equipment” (what, is this a trick question?) that it is difficult, if not impossible, to envision any woman being born into this world at all.
To me, it seems less a case of penis envy (Sigmund Freud having lived in altogether too chivalrous a time period for such “plain talk” as I offer here) than it is one of vagina abhorrence from the standpoint of the “would-be tenant” in contemplating a role as “owner-proprietor”. Alas, for reasons known only to our Creator, (almost exactly) half of us come out on the losing end of the coin toss. If things seem pretty “even steven” (leaving aside the fact that a penis, self-evidently, constitutes an anatomical “presence” and a vagina, self-evidently, an anatomical “absence”) over the course of the first ten or eleven years in the life of a boy and a girl there does, alas, “come the day…”
It would take a very hard-hearted individual, indeed (someone like myself, for instance) to find anything amusing in the level of Mortification at the Sheer Cosmic Unfairness of It All with which a young girl must greet the news that every twenty-eight days or so for decades-upon-decades stretching as far into the future as a ten- or eleven-year-old can possibly conceive – that a “little friend will be coming to visit”. A “little friend” who (it seems) will be just as catastrophic and humiliating a mess as the one who has (just now) paid a first most unwelcome social call.
No one wants to be a woman.
Those of you who are masochistic enough to have stuck with this far, are probably asking, as sensible Laura Hudson did: “WHY?????”
Gail Simone and Heidi MacDonald, two of the strongest and most well-spoken women in comics, both make appearances, but honestly guys–I know Sim is a brilliant creator, but I have idea why so many people remain compelled to beat their heads against that particular brick wall, particularly when it only feeds directly into Sim’s sense of self-importance and persecution.
Yes, why indeed. Sim makes it clear that he doesn’t really want to think about anything because he’s made his mind up. (No wonder he avoids the Internet! Facts don’t seem to be of much interest to him on several topics.) And he hasn’t made a career out of “Frauleinhass.” Aside from a few loonies who follow him around the web, he doesn’t have followers or acolytes, and doesn’t even want them.
Well, I can only speak for myself, but it’s that double standard that bothers me. Why, 70 years later, remember the Holocaust? Because in the words of misogynist (but noted anti-anti-Semite) Nietzsche Santayana, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” You can’t just sweep 9 million murdered Jews, Poles, Slavs, Gypsies and gay men under the rug, and I salute Dave Sim for knowing this.
Tragically, as with anti-Semitism and racism, with anti-feminists, or misogynists, or crackpots or whatever you want to call them, the battle never, ever ends. Discussion, as Dave himself contends when it suits him, should be encouraged. I don’t want Sim to be thrown in jail or silenced or shunned or to stop cartooning. I’m not going to boycott the Norman Rockwell museum because they invited Dave Sim to an event. It’s not like they put on a show called “Dave Sim talks about homemaking.”
But I do think people should examine their own feelings about the double standard. Gender issues aren’t like racial or religious prejudices. Everyone has a beef against someone of the opposite sex, whether a petty personal rejection or emotional torture or the loss of control in the throes of sexual desire or love. It can be easy to project these into universal statements of human nature. (After reading Sim’s comments on the Tart board, it would seem that most of his views come from his mother issues, but as I said, I don’t want to engage in psychoanalysis here.)
Sometimes, these beefs are expressed through petty personal slights. Other times, they take over entire societies which condone everything from female genital mutilation to “honor” killings to rape as the tool of ethnic cleansing to a woman being arrested for sitting next to an unrelated man in a Starbucks. I’m not trying to equate the petty with the cruel and inhumane. But until we understand the sources of these feelings and social conventions, we cannot help, we cannot cure. We cannot progress.
Dave Sim is no general in a war against women. He’s not even a foot soldier. He’s a talented man with a dark side. He’s also, as far as I can see, someone whose hypocrisy is a foundation of his philosophy. The ultimate irony is that Sim’s work ends up being the greatest repudiation of the hateful and/or ignorant views he’s expressed. The tenderness and wisdom of Jaka’s Story will last longer than any bullshit philosophy. I hope so, anyway.